At the beginning of this school year, Ranson Middle eighth-graders Jayla DeBoles and Jason King hadn’t given the quality of their education much thought.
But that quickly changed after they joined the school’s media specialist in reviving the Wake UP! program there, turned it into a class and are now working to bring positive changes to Ranson.
Wake UP! is a local student-empowerment program that a dozen Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools participate in. The idea for the program came in 2010 from Kelley Pomis, the director for teacher leadership and development for Teach for America-Charlotte. The program helps students understand educational equity issues, and, consequently, make an impact.
Ranson had tried Wake UP! two years ago, but wasn’t active in the program last year.
Once Jayla got a better understanding about the importance of education for young people and that there are a lot of education inequities in the country, she wanted to do more with Wake UP!.
“I fell in love with it,” she said.
To get more kids active in the program, she suggested it become an “advisory” at Ranson, which is a 45-minute class period each morning that allows students to participate in a club, activity or topic of interest that involves them more deeply in school.
Now there are about 20 kids in the Wake UP! advisory, and Jayla and Jason are team captains of the Ranson chapter.
At the start of the year, they watched the 2010 documentary “Waiting for Superman,” which follows bright American students who are in poor learning environments.
“At first, I was oblivious to what teachers thought,” Jason said. “It just really hit my mind that teachers aren’t getting paid a lot or students aren’t getting what they need. It really got me thinking.”
So the group put together a SWOT analysis, or a list of the school’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
Jason said the group decided there were a lot more weaknesses than strengths in their school.
Now they’re trying to figure out how to knock some of those weaknesses off the list and increase their strengths.
“There’s a lot we can work on,” Jayla said. “I give my hat off to every teacher at Ranson because they’re guiding us on the right path. We don’t want them to be ashamed that they work for Ranson.”
Their principal, Alison Harris, said she’s been impressed with the pair.
“For them to articulate this,” she said, pointing to the SWOT list, “for them to say there’s a lack of volunteers and parental involvement... that’s amazing.”
She and Wake UP! teacher, Sara Kay Mooney, said they’ve watched the two become leaders at the school as a result.
You’ll find them building others up, reminding their peers about the importance of paying attention in class and telling others about good things happening at Ranson.
They’re easy to spot, too: Jayla will usually wear pink earrings or accessories to match the magenta earbuds she keeps around her neck, and Jason typically dons a bow tie and pin-on buttons that feature TV characters or different messages.
“Both have a deep sense of responsibility,” Mooney said. “They’re very eager and using their spirit to be influences for theirs peers in a positive way.”
The two are helping their Wake UP! class craft a plan for specific ways to make a positive impact. They’re upbeat when it comes to talking about engaging students more and using social media for school promotion. They’ve talked about giving speeches and having a “school swap” with other CMS students for a day to promote understanding. Jayla said she wants to see improvements with student-teacher relationships and possibly an advisory class for one-on-one help from teachers.
Both have interests in teaching someday, along with varied dreams of being a principal, psychologist, reporter, lawyer or performer. To fulfill those dreams, they’re focusing on their studies while keeping a busy schedule at Ranson.
The two work on the morning announcements team, are media-center assistants for Mooney and give tours at Ranson.
Jason is on the planning committee for Black History Month and enjoys making videos and doing spoken word poetry. Jayla is the women’s basketball team manager.
She said she’s glad she’s found her voice and hopes to keep motivating other students. “I want to see everybody move up,” she said. “You want everybody to say, ‘This is what I want for myself, this is what I want for my future.’ ”
Ruebens: 704-358-5294; Twitter: @lruebens
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